Wow. Just wow!
I don't really know where to start with this blog as I have so many things to say about the incredible week I have just had at the World CP Games! Probably starting from the beginning would be my best bet? So, here we go, here is the past 7 days at the World CP Games packed into one blog post...
I arrived a week ago on Sunday (9th August) and I had very mixed emotions. As I said in my previous blog post, as pathetic as it sounds at nearly the age of 21, I have never been away from home, so I just didn't know how I would take to it - I decided beforehand that it was going to either go one way or another! As my accreditation was put around my neck and I walked into my room for the week and saw my kit laid across my bed, excitement took over the fear! Something at that point told me that it was all going to be okay and I ushered my parents out!
I then found out that Matt, who I train with, was in the room next door to mine, which made me very happy as until then I hadn't seen anyone who I recognised. We then went to the Opening Ceremony, which was really good! It was so surreal to be marching out as a selected athlete in England kit!
Monday saw a 6.30am get up - in the Team Meeting, Claire our fantastic Team England Manager, told us we had to be on the bus to training by 8.30am, and one of the other athletes shouted up "What time was that Claire, 10.30?! Yeah, we'll be there for 10.30!" haha!
I got incredible amounts from training. I was so lucky to be allocated Ros Miller as my coach for the duration of the Games. Ros is Mum and Coach to Stephen Miller, who is GB's greatest, most successful Club Thrower ever and one of my hereoes, so I couldn't quite believe it! And, it got even better - to cut a long story short, my throwing frame (the thing I sit to throw the Club on) isn't suitable for throwing the Club and it never has been. Despite our best efforts to find a suitable frame, it just hasn't happened - throwing frames are not something you can just buy off the shelf. The 'normal' way to throw the Club is backwards - you get much more momentum, height and control. But, as my throwing frame is essentially a tile on legs with no chair back, I have to throw sideways, which is a rubbish technique compared to throwing backwards. However, Ros very kindly let me have a go on Stephen's first ever throwing frame, I believe it's the one he won Paralympic Gold on in Atlanta 1996 - it was like all my birthdays and Christmases came at once! I threw backwards and went beyond my PB straight away. It's made me absolutely determined to carry on what has been the very difficult quest to find someone to build me a suitable throwing frame. It felt so good and without getting ahead of myself, I really did start to imagine Tokyo 2020 if I could get hold of the right frame!
Ros & I
I also had the pleasure of training with UK Number 1 and World Number 3 Club Thrower, Abbie Hunnisett! She has such an amazing talent and she's a great girl, if she doesn't go to Rio 2016 there's something wrong with the world!
Abbie & I
Tuesday saw classification. I have previously been classified nationally, which means I'm eligible for national UK competitions. For the World Games, I had to be internationally classified so that I was eligible to represent my country. When I went for national classification in 2014, they said that it was a practice to give me a taster as to what international classification would be like as apparently international classification is 'scary' - this couldn't be further from the truth! I actually found international classification really chilled out and relaxed compared to my national classification! I even had to sign a disclaimer before I went into my national classification to basically say 'I knew that it would put me through my paces and I may become emotionally distressed'! I don't know quite how you'd become emotionally distressed about being poked and prodded by physios etc., if you have a physical disability, which obviously you do if you're being classified, being poked and prodded by health professionals is pretty standard!
I've always been told how 'weird' my type of Cerebral Palsy is, and classification was no exception to that rule - around 2 hours later, I was finally classified as an F32 and an RR2. For a good hour, the classifiers were going to classify me as an F31. In simple terms, the 'F' means 'Field', '3' means Cerebral Palsy, and then the number following the 3 refers to your level of Cerebral Palsy - the lower the number, the more severe your Cerebral Palsy is, and 1-4 compete in a seated position, and 5-8 are ambulant. Obviously F31 is the most severe classification for Cerebral Palsy, and this is what was confusing the classifiers! I can walk, and very well for someone with my type of Cerebral Palsy - not a lot of people can. But, as soon as you sit me down, I have the same limitations as someone in the F31/32 category, i.e. limited hand control, unwanted movements, not much grip etc. The classifiers ended up taking me outside so I could throw for them. They classified me throwing backwards in Stephen Miller's chair instead of my chair sideways as ultimately I will be throwing backwards in the long run. I was then officially classified as an F32 as my "potential throwing backwards would be unfair to the F31's", which was amazing to hear straight from the IPC (International Paralympic Committee), so I really need to push on now and find somebody somewhere who is willing to build me a throwing frame that will allow me to throw backwards!
As for RaceRunning, this was a bit more straightforward. I came out as an 'RR2', which I was expecting. The RaceRunning classifications run from 'RR1' through to 'RR4', so I am sort of 'middle of the road' on their impairment scale and being an RR2 puts me comfortably at the top of the World Rankings!
The RaceRunning Classifiers
On Wednesday, we had a rest day and a semi-lie in (7.45am - this was a serious lie in at the Games!). We went to watch the Cerebral Palsy Football, which was really cool and it was nice to relax and spectate for once! As a sports student, without sounding like a bit of a geek, I was really interested in the adaptations made to the game, e.g. each half was a 1/2 an hour long as opposed to 45 minutes, and the pitch appeared to be smaller. Now, as people who have Cerebral Palsy ourselves we felt we were allowed to say this, but we all said the exact same thing as spectators from the Athletics Team - "Are those footballers able-bodied?!". We had previously seen them at meal times, and we just assumed they had brought loads and loads of coaches with them - but, oh no, they were the Cerebral Palsy Football Teams! You couldn't even see a 'hint' of Cerebral Palsy in 90% of them, but I suppose it just goes to show how wide Cerebral Palsy can be as a disability. We were all laughing as usually people are rude enough to stare because they can clearly see a disability, we were all staring as we were trying to spot the disability!
Cerebral Palsy Football
Thursday was the first day of the Athletics, but another rest day for me as I had no events until Friday. I do not mind admitting that for me, Thursday was probably the 'worst' day and that wasn't because I had no events - I love watching Athletics, especially live Disability Athletics right in front of me! But, I am such a worrier and I over-think things - watching other athletes come out of the call room and escorted out, with the crowd and everything was for some reason really stressing me out! I literally sat there like "Oh my, this will be me tomorrow!". And, I was getting very stressed about the starting gun - I can honestly say hand on heart that out of all of the competitions I've been in, this gun was ear piercingly loud and sending my startle reflex wild - I had no idea how I was going to react and deal with it the following day when I was on the track! Somebody made the very funny remark of "So we're at the World Cerebral Palsy Games and they've chosen the loudest gun known to mankind!".
When it was Matthew's race, who I train with back in Sheffield, I don't know what came over me! All though I didn't let on at the time, I was virtually in tears seeing him race! I think it was the combination of feeling a bit stressed anyway, and the fact that I obviously train with Matt, we had become close over the week and got to know each other really well, and he is technically the first ever member of the CP Teens UK RaceRunning Club, which I'm in the process of setting up. It was fantastic to see him racing and I was so proud of him! It was actually Matthew who got me into RaceRunning - I was Club Throwing at a competition in Doncaster in 2014 and all of a sudden I saw this 'thing' racing down the track, and all at once my Mum, Dad and myself went "Wow!", and the rest as they say is history!
Matt RaceRunning at the World Games
So, Friday arrived - my first competition day and my first ever International as a selected athlete. I was surprisingly calm, bear in mind my feelings the previous day. As sad as this sounds, my family were coming to watch and after nearly a week away from home, even though I had been perfectly fine, I was so looking forward to seeing them and telling them everything I had been up to, so I think this took over!
I had never experienced the process of having a designated warm up time, a call up room and an escort out with our names and the countries we were representing over the stadium speakers as we entered - it was daunting, but incredibly exciting! When I was throwing, the weather was typically British as it was pouring with rain, which made my throwing shocking! The machine that measures the distance of your throws broke half way through my throwing, so I just had to sit there getting soggier and soggier. Ros, the Team England Seated Throws Coach, took the opportunity to give me a bit of exta coaching - I know I said it previously, but Ros was absolutely fantastic, she really did inspire me and I found her coaching invaluable.
Throwing in the pouring rain!
Abbie Hunnisett took Gold, which she thouroughly deserved. Her PA, Lauren, made me laugh so much when Abbie was throwing - we were sat in a gazebo with sides on the field whilst other people were throwing as it was pouring with rain, so we couldn't actually see out. However, I knew exactly how Abbie was doing from Lauren's facial expressions and funny comments! Abbie is an extremely talented Club Thrower, and on average she throws between 16 and 20m. I don't quite know what happened, but one of her throws only hit 3m and Lauren went, "What the hell is she doing?!". And then, she managed to chuck a massive throw out that looked to be way beyond her PB, and Lauren went "Okay, that was a bloody massive throw!!".
In the afternoon, I had the 200m - I accepted beforehand that this wasn't my strongest of distances and I thought 'let's treat it as experience for tomorrow's 100m'. I more often than not struggle to keep my RaceRunner in lane on the 200m bend, so I was terrified of disqualification, and it didn't help that the track was really wet from the morning's rain (and it was still drizzling!). As I came out of the call room and onto the track, "Ellie Simpson of England in lane 1", was announced over the stadium speakers and I actually felt ill, but excited at the same time! To my great surprise, I actually was okay with the starting gun - I think once you're in that 'zone' where you're waiting for the gun and you know as soon as that gun goes, you're going to go, it's easier to deal with.
Coming up to the finish line in the 200m
All I remember about the 200m is thinking that I was literally going to tip over and die or something on the bend! I don't think I've ever gone into the bend at such speed and my RaceRunner was virtually on 2 wheels!
I also remember coming down the 100m home straight in the 200m and being aware of another RaceRunner coming up in her lane behind me at speed. At this point, I was gasping for air, but thought 'I've not come this far to be beaten in the last 40m!'. I somehow managed to turn my speed up and to my utter, sheer disbelief, I took Gold and my time of 53.56s put me at World Number 1 - how I managed to do this, I do not know!
The following day was the 100m. Even though I had an absolutely super day on the track in the 200m the day before, I was even more nervous for the 100m - this was the one I was 'renowned' for and the one I had trained so hard for. Everyone was telling me that 'I had done it the day before, I could do it again' - my reply was, 'Easier said than done!', haha! I had the trauma of getting through the gun again, and as it was the 100m, following the right lane lines - anyone who has used a track will know that on the 100m, there are dotted lines that merge with the constant lines, and they overlap. You have to follow the dotted lines until you reach the constant lines so you end up in the correct lane, and I always really struggle with this and panic!
As I came out of the call room and onto the track, the Team England Sprints Coach came up to me, held my hand and said "You know what? You can do this. You can take Gold, again. I want to give it everything you've got. Every last bit of blood, sweat and tear. I believe in you.". I wanted to cry again - I don't know what came over me at the Games, I wanted to cry at almost everything! What gets me about disability sport is that in everyday life, no one really believes in you apart from those who are close to you. But, when your out on a track or a field, or any sporting ground, all of a sudden, people believe in you.
There was a massive headwind in the 100m, which made it quite difficult. Again, on the start line, I thought "It's not going to be my day, but I've been a part of something amazing and that's all that matters". So, to say I was absolutely gobsmacked and flabbergasted to take Gold once again in the 100m is a true understatement! It very slowly sunk in that I was in fact a double gold medalist in a world games - a massive world class sporting event!
My coach and I had always joked that I should learn the National Anthem as we never imagined I would need it - I sent him a text after I had won my first gold to say "I really should have learned that National Anthem!".
I was very lucky to receive both of my Gold medals from 2 people who mean a lot to me. Firstly, my first Gold was presented by Peter Drysdale - Gavin Drysdale's Dad. For those of you who don't know Gavin, he is the all time world record holder for RR3 RaceRunning. I actually first 'met' Gavin online, I found him through CP Teens UK! Gavin lives in Scotland, so it wasn't like we could exactly just meet up. However, we finally got to meet back in May as Gavin was also competing in Manchester! Seeing Gavin here, there and everywhere last week was actually one of the highlights of my week - no matter what time of day it was, or if we were separated by a busy road, Gavin always had the biggest of smiles and waves for me last week! I am so lucky to know Gavin and he is a true ambassador for disabilty sport, especially in Scotland.
Receiving Gold off of Gavin's Dad - very bad hair day for me after competing in the pouring rain!
Myself and Matthew tried to sit with Gavin as much as possible as we live so far apart, and we managed to get lots of photos together!
Just before the Closing Ceremony
My second Gold medal was presented by Stephen Miller - the same Stephen I spoke about earlier in this post. The thing that absolutely made it for me was the fact that when I went up to receive my medal, Stephen went "Well done Elle!" - only 3 years ago, I watched Stephen on my TV at the Paralympics hoping that one day I'd maybe be lucky enough to meet him. Today, I know Stephen, and his Mum, and he always stops to say hello to me!
Getting Gold from Stephen
It was quite funny actually because both Stephen & I have the same type of Cerebral Palsy, which for us means limited hand control. Stephen couldn't get the medal around my neck (I felt for him, I couldn't have done it with hundreds of people watching either!), so I attempted to help him and it was a bit like the blind leading the blind! We got there in the end though and it gave me a few extra seconds of glory, haha!
We had so much banter at the Games. Lee and George, who were also on the England Athletics Team, soon picked up on the fact that I jump really easily and that I have a startle reflex - well, once they knew this, didn't I know about it?! At every possible opportunity they would come up behind me, thump me on the back and go "ELLIE!" - it kept everyone amused! They also soon picked up on the fact that Matt & Abbie have the same startle reflex and when we were all sat together in a row, they got us all at once - Lee went "3 for the price of one, oh yeah!", haha!
Lee, Matthew & I
On a similar note with the startle reflex, Matt, Abbie and I were sat in the stadium as spectators and the starting gun went off. I had my phone and an opened bottle of water in my hands, and Abbie had her powerchair on. My phone went flying one way, my water practically drowned Abbie's PA, Lauren, in front and Matt to my side, and Abbie caught her wheelchair's control stick and went flying backwards! I thought I was going to explode with laughter! Before the next starting gun, Lauren went, "Right, let's have all phones in pockets, all bottles on the floor and all powerchairs off!", hahaha!
The last event on the track at the Games was the 4x100m relay. It appeared to be a last minute idea just to round off all of the events that had took place over the 3 days, and the selected athletes had only had about 1/2 an hour's practice during the lunch break. We were all joking that as all of the participants had Cerebral Palsy, there was no way the baton was going to go the whole 400m without being dropped! As the race was about to start, Lauren went "This is going to be such a car crash!", which sent me, Abbie, Matthew & Muninder (another Athlete for England) into a major laughing fit! Anyway, as with all of the other races, the official wanted complete silence from the crowd as he had blown his whistle, except for we were far from silent as we were in fits of laughter! The official kept eyeballing us and all I could hear was Matt squeaking under his jacket! I think the official just gave up and carried on - it was such a relief when the gun finally went off, and as per, we all jumped!
When we went to watch the football on Wednesday, it was a really hot day and for some reason there was no water. When we got back on the bus to go back, a athlete asked one of the coaches if there was any juice cartons left from lunch? There were only 7 cartons and about 30 of us, so the coach said it would be unfair as everyone was thirsty and there was only 7 left. So, the athlete replied, "I'm going to play the disabled card, I'm disabled & I need a drink!", to which the coach replied, "Yeah, because that is really going to work on this bus isn't it?!", haha!
One of the many, many bus rides to and from the Athlete's Village
There was surprisingly a lot of walking at the Games. The walk from our accommodation to where we had meals was a good 10mins, and 15mins if you're a slow coach like me! After walking it for the first day, I and Matt decided that we would better to wheel it going forward. Matt then came up with the best, and most funniest, idea - his chair is a powerchair, and mine is a manual chair, so Matthew told me to hang onto his handlebars whilst I sat behind him in my chair ... and he literally pulled me to the food hall! Probably against every single health & safety rule in the book, but absolutely hilarious! I think it's fair to say that we cleared everyone in our path!
I could go on and on about what we got up to at the World Games, but with 3,802 words on the word count, I probably should start wrapping up.
The World Games is something that I'll remember for the rest of my life. I'd like to say a massive, massive thank you to CP Sport, especially Ali Talbot, who is the CEO - Ali really did put her heart and soul into these Games, and worked so incredibly hard to make them happen. You did an absolutely incredible job and created very special, lifelong memories for everyone involved. You should be so, so proud.
I am now in some kind of 'post-games blues' and I can't wait to get back to training and see Matt again - it's so weird after spending a week with people not to be with them anymore, especially Matt who kept me laughing all week!
I promise that I won't blog about sport for a while as for those of you who aren't interested in sport, I appreciate that this is probably a very boring read for you - in fact, you've probably not even read this far down! If this blog post has got you thinking that maybe you'd like to try out disability sport, don't forget you can check out the Disability Sport page and/or email myself for more information - firstname.lastname@example.org
I suppose all that's left to say is thank you to all of the people who made last week happen and made it so special. It's now time to return to the 'office' to really work towards the CP Teens UK Ball on the 17th Oct!